did Nirvana's success kill the underground?
'gimme that dollar!' did Nirvana's success kill the underground?
did Nirvana's success kill the underground?
'gimme that dollar!' did Nirvana's success kill the underground?

Before Nirvana’s massive breakthrough
In the USA the post hardcore scene had flowered into groups as diverse as Big Black, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jnr, Fugazi and a myriad of other fascinating and often quite extreme in countless different ways kinds of bands. In the UK the Death To trad Rock scene was getting more extreme and bizarre and underground music had the attitude that the art was everything.

When Nirvana broke big the rule book was re written. Sunddely there was this idea that you could geta career out of your music and that creating your own style of music was over. Major labels had a feeding frenzy and stripped the underground bare. In the past twenty years indie has gone from meaning independent to meaning watered down bland sixties music, or those horrible harmony vocal faux punk flavoured things like Scouting From Girls.

Independent radio stations are like Radio One but with no black music and the whole notion of the underground has been turned on its head. Of course it still exists but it’s far from extreme. Nirvana created the underground into mainstream crossover path that was followed by all manner of bands like the Strokes who were already connected with the mainstream with their backgrounds and whose music was pretend underground, masquerading as independent or alternative.

What was once Crass is now the Strokes- that’s how far the notion of what is independent has changed…

It’s not Nirvana’s fault and we don’t begrudge anyone going mainstream. Afterall punk in 1977 was pop music and we love pop music.

‘Nevermind’ was a great record. ‘Teen Spirit’ still sounds fab to this day and we don’t boo when we hear the name Green Day, we just like to have some sort of underground culture left, not because we are snobs but because we like to have our noisy stuff untainted…and thank fuck it still limps along…

It just took a long time to recover. Bands saw there was a career opportunity and toned down the madness, got signed and got dropped and got a shitty job…

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


  1. […] Last week i found myself at an exhibition in London, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s seminal 1991 album Nevermind. I should probably start by saying that Nevermind is my least favourite Nirvana album. In contrast, […]

  2. It wasnt Nirvanas fault more the graph paper brained record company executives who havent got a clue and also the people who are happy to accept that stuff. How can you listen to the Strokes when you have heard The Stooges really?

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    […] Nirvana- Represented the moment the dam broke in American (therefore world) rock music in the same way as […]

  4. […] about time there was another decent British Indie Rock band to take on the world, Nirvana or White Stripes style. Blood Red Shoes have been a kind of \’gateway\’ act up to now, taking the […]


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